Saturday, March 29, 2014

THE SKEPTICS' GUIDE, FORTEAN RADIO, AND MYSTERIES


Originally posted June 10, 2013

The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe this week featured a discussion of the latest installment of the Star Trek movie franchise, and an appearance by friend of the show Joshie Berger.  Overall, it was a fairly breezy episode, although the reason for Berger’s appearance was quite serious.
The meat of the episode was the Rogues' discussion of Star Trek Into Darkness.  I had recently watched the movie so I did not mind all of the spoilers bantered about during the discussion.  The Rogues discussing a movie stumbles into the realm of the subjective.  An area fraught with peril and an area in which many come out with somebody disliking or disagreeing with someone not based upon facts or evidence but upon emotional appeal.  Granted when the Rogues were discussing what was wrong with some of the science in the episode there is less to argue about their interpretation.  (Let’s face it, rarely do movies get it correct when dealing with gravity or generated gravity in space.  It’s nearly always a given that somehow the ships generate their own Earthlike gravity and every planet as basically 1G of gravity.) 
The Rogues spent a lot of time discussing the script, plot motivations, and comparisons to Star Trek of yesteryear.  While on one level, I quite enjoyed the banter, on another level, I am not sure it had a lot to do with skepticism or science.  It was more like the Rogues do the Incomparable podcast.  I am aware that the Rogues' discussion ofPrometheus was a huge hit, and the fanbase asked for more.  The discussion ofPrometheus was fantastically engaging and I can see why the listeners and the Rogues would want to do it again.  Yet, that discussion of Prometheus was lightning in a bottle, and I am not sure that episode can be recreated.  This is not to say they ought to never do another movie discussion episode, but the Prometheus discussion was something special.
A good discussion of Mad Men could be had by history buffs on the historical accuracy of the show or of a particular episode.  Likely, there are lots of objective things to discuss.  However, the show could also veer off to what makes Don Draper tick, and January Jones wasn’t believable in whatever scene.  Once it gets into that area, it isn’t a history discussion but a review show.    
Berger was on the episode to discuss the practice of traditional circumcision where the mohel sucks the blood from the infant penis after the foreskin is trimmed.  This practice is unsanitary and can be a disease vector.  The cover of a religious practice should not be used as an excuse to expose newborns to harm.  I cannot disagree with the sentiment.  The whole circumcision debate truly gets into a very emotionally charged area in general, but the Rogues kept it tight.  Berger hosted Science or Fiction on various Jewish Orthodox customs.  For me, a little bit of Joshie Berger can go a long way, but Berger’s appearance on this episode was of a nice length.  He added a spark to the episode without derailing it.
Over at Fortean Radio, Trystan Swale and Andy Russell engaged Marcus Wenner in a quite interesting discussion on the Raelian Movement.  Wenner is a Raelian.  My knowledge of the Raelian Movement is quite limited.  They had something to do with UFOs and aliens wishing to communicate with us as well as some creepy stuff.   
Wenner shared his view from the inside.  Wenner shared how important it is to the Raelians to gain an embassy on neutral territory for the aliens on Earth.  The philosophy   of the Raelians is pleasure, freedom, and to engage in self fulfillment by the use of technology, and changes in the economic/governmental systems.  Wenner went into some of the charity work the Raelians are engaging in Africa to restore victims of female circumcision and suing the Catholic Church over pedophiles.   
The above all sounds just hunky dory, and I am not sure about how squeaky clean the organization actually is in practice.  Pursuits of pleasure could wind down the road of orgies pretty quick in my opinion, and I am not judging.  I am just saying.  Trystan asked some keen questions on how the Raelians wish to see governmental/societal leaders elevated which Wenner's answers were less than convincing as well as his answers on how Raelian view on how life evolved on Earth.  Yet, overall it was a fascinating interview.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Now Fortean Radio is not a skeptical podcast per se.  It is discussion of the weird, wonderful, and high strangeness.  I enjoy it a great deal.  I enjoy Be Reasonable for similar reasons although it is a skeptical podcast.  The content and interview styles are generally similar.  The copy in Fortean Times is wonderful.  The articles are written in an engaging fashion.  When I had more time I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Mysterious Universe, and still do from time to time.  I love classic Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell and enjoy reading about strange things.   
Inspector Chan
Inspector Chan
I am not sure where reading about the strange and odd meet mystery-mongering, but at some point I like trying to figure out the mystery or the incident, or much more likely read about someone else rationally investigating a mystery or claim to come to a reasoned conclusion.  Just leaving the mystery hanging without an attempt to figure it out seems dissatisfying to me.  It is like watching a Charlie Chan mystery and at the movie's end the great detective turns to number one son and shrugs.  Instead of explaining the crime, he says "maybe the butler did it, or maybe it was the niece.  Not sure, but time to go home."  No.  Sometimes the answer is 'I don't know.'  It may not be satisfying and it is better than being a cynic just calling it all bullshit, but at least the exercise was done.   
For some, the tale of the mystery itself is enough. For me, it is not.  In some ways I understand believers more than I do just those who revel in the mystery on its own because even though I disagree with their methods to their conclusions, it is the desire for a answer I understand.  Mystery mongering just to drum up a mystery where the answer is either known and left on the editing room floor, or not even researched is completely foreign to my sensibilities.    For me, the question is the first step, not the destination.  

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